Sao Paulo, April 16, 2019–Brazil’s Supreme Court should revoke a decision to censure and fine an online magazine and refrain from censoring media outlets, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered the online magazine Crusoé to take down a report yesterday after it mentioned the president of Brazil’s Supreme Court, José Antonio Dias Toffoli, according to news reports.
According to court documents sent to Crusoé, Moraes was responding to a request from Dias Toffoli. He said the report “struck the honor and security” of the court and told Crusoé to take it down or face a daily fine of 100,000 reals ($25,667).
In addition, Moraes asked the federal police to question the report’s authors within 72 hours, the magazine said. That request was rejected today by the attorney general, who said a judge does not have the authority to open an investigation, according to a statement by the attorney general’s office.
“The Brazilian Supreme Court’s aggressive actions against Crusoé after the magazine reported on one of the court’s judges are extremely troubling,” said CPJ South and Central America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick from New York. “Rather than scrubbing critical articles from the internet and harassing reporters, Brazilian judicial officials should be committed to upholding constitutional values such as freedom of the press.”
A press officer at the Supreme Court told CPJ that yesterday’s move was, like many judicial decisions in Brazil, “secret” and therefore no information on the case would be made public.
However, Crusoé published some details online about Moraes’ decision, which came after the magazine published a story about the Car Wash corruption scandal that has dominated Brazilian politics and business over the last few years.
Crusoé complied with the order and took down the report. According to the reports about the case, the Crusoé article alleged that Marcelo Odebrecht, the chief executive of the Odebrecht construction empire–who pled guilty to paying close to $1 billion in bribes to politicians in return for building contracts–was referring to Dias Toffoli in a coded message that came to light as part of his plea bargain.
Dias Toffoli was the head of the Office of the General Counsel for the Federal Government at the time of the message, with the power to influence multi-million dollar construction projects.
Although the Crusoé report did not accuse Dias Toffoli of wrongdoing, the magazine said he asked Moraes to open a formal investigation into what he called “lies” that were designed to strike at “Brazilian institutions.”
One of the story’s authors, Rodrigo Rangel, said in a statement emailed to CPJ that the magazine sent Dias Toffoli questions before publishing but that he did not respond. Publisher Mario Sabino said the magazine was appealing the decision.
“In our view this is an act of judicial intimidation,” Sabino wrote in a separate statement sent to CPJ. “Freedom of the press is only weakened when we do not use it. We will continue to fight for it.”
The decision comes as Brazilian journalists try to adapt to a reporting environment that has become more hostile since the far-right Jair Bolsonaro won a hard-fought presidential election in October. Bolsonaro has repeatedly railed at what he calls “fake news” and his sons–who are also politicians–have rallied online critics with frequent attacks on the press.
Bolsonaro himself expressed support for freedom of expression today, without specifically mentioning the Supreme Court case. “My position will always be in favor of freedom of expression, a right that is legitimate and inviolate,” he wrote on Twitter.